cover image The Most Wanted

The Most Wanted

Jacquelyn Mitchard. Viking, $24.95 (407pp) ISBN 978-0-670-87884-0

Despite portentous foreshadowing, Mitchard second novel never achieves the dramatic momentum and the emotional immediacy of her acclaimed fiction debut, The Deep End of the Ocean. But her depiction of two female protagonists is so large-hearted and wise that readers undoubtedly will be engrossed in their story. At 14, Arlington ""Arley"" Mowbray is a sensitive, conscientious and atypical teenager in a small, tacky South Texas town. She writes poetry, for one thing, and, instead of dating boys, she is a virtual slave to her hard-as-nails mother, whose lack of maternal instincts is shocking. When love-starved Arley begins corresponding with 23-year-old Dillon Thomas LeGrande, in jail for armed robbery, she is seduced by the poetry he writes and, with the reluctant help of public defender Annie Singer, gains permission to marry him. Soon, protective Annie takes a pregnant Arley into her home and heart, complicating her own relationship with her fiance, a death-row lawyer. Eventually, Dillon's true nature as a psychopath erupts, putting Arley and others in mortal danger. Mitchard's facility with intertwining plot lines results in a surprise-packed conclusion (with perhaps one surprise too many). Her depiction of the dizzy rapture of first love, and her insights into the maternal bond (Arley's with her infant daughter; Annie's with Arley, her surrogate daughter) are deeply affecting. Yet readers will find a troubling credibility problem. That studious Arley can transcend her culturally bereft upbringing is at least plausible, but it is unlikely that bad-boy Dillon would have the sensibility, background or vocabulary to create the poems attributed to him (actually written by Mitchard's friend, poet Sharron Singleton). Since so much of the plot hinges on Dillon's gift for poetry, the reader is keenly aware of this major flaw. Simultaneous Penguin audio; major ad/promo; Literary Guild and Doubleday Book Club main selections; author tour. (June) FYI: Mitchard borrows the name of a Chicago bookstore, Women and Children First, for the name of Annie Singer's law firm.